Why we oppose cruelty to elephants

By Sen. Bob Hedlund and Rep. Lori Ehrlich

On Monday, the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development will hear Senate Bill 1870, An Act Relating to the Treatment of Elephants.

We can see your raised eyebrows and hear your snickers through the computer screen. “Is this really needed?” you’re likely asking. “Isn’t this going a bit overboard?”

Yes, and no, are our answers.

This bill is needed because we don’t feel poorly-trained animal handlers should be able to use pointed, metal-tipped clubs to beat and intimidate these beautiful, rare, and intelligent animals into submission, keep them chained up for 23 hours a day, and forced to perform tricks for our enjoyment.

And no, this bill isn’t going overboard, just like prohibiting someone from beating their dog isn’t going overboard. We’re not lobbying for animal rights – this isn’t about freeing animals from the zoo, or closing poultry farms — we’re talking about protecting animals from abusive treatment.

The opponents of this bill, led by Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, has deliberately circulated mistruths and falsehoods about the origins of this legislation, and the impact it would have in their attempts to kill it. We hope to clarify some of these points and encourage you to join with us in supporting this legislation.

1)This bill does not ban elephants, or circuses with elephants, from visiting Massachusetts.

It does, however, prohibit handlers from beating elephants with heavy, metal-tipped clubs called bullhooks, or ankuses.

It also says that handlers can’t use steel ankle shackles and chains to keep elephants chained up for 23 hours a day.

During the recent federal court case stemming from Ringling Bros. abusive treatment of elephants, it was revealed that virtually every single one of Ringling Bros. elephants has a medical condition directly related to being forced to wear ankle chains and remain standing upright on hard surfaces for hours on end.

Circus handlers say they need these weapons to keep elephants in line. However, these weapons are no longer used by most accredited zoos. The difference? Zoos don’t need to beat elephants into submission and scare them into performing “tricks” that they would otherwise never do in the wild.  

2)This bill was not written by PETA and is not part of a radical animal-rights agenda

The first group to bring this issue to Sen. Hedlund’s attention were members of the South Shore Humane Society, whose president at the time was a union pipefitter, who ate meat, and owned guns.

We support this effort because we were horrified by the images and videos we have seen of handlers beating elephants, dragging them into the ring bleeding, or using a blowtorch to burn the hair off of elephants.  (We have included a couple video links at the end of this post, as well as direct testimony from the Ringling Bros. trial)

This is not about animal rights; it’s about saying we don’t think elephants should be beaten and abused for our own amusement.

3)An elephant’s skin is not tough, and it can feel a whack from a bullhook

Although elephants can weigh more than 3 tons, it doesn’t mean they are impervious to pain. Their skin isn’t a tough hide like that of a rhinoceros. It’s actually quite sensitive and thin in some places. Elephants can feel a bug bite just like we can.

During the Ringling Bros. trial, a memo between circus employees was entered into evidence that discussed how one elephant had “[dripped] blood all over the arena floor during the show from being hooked” by a bullhook.

Even if elephants did have tough skin, it wouldn’t do much to protect them when handlers are sticking and jabbing metal clubs into their ear canals and anuses.

4)This bill will not mean you can’t bring your children to a circus in Massachusetts.

We all remember going to the circus as a kid. You will still be able to if this bill passes.  Ringling Bros. says they won’t to able to bring their show to Boston if this legislation passes. However, that is a business decision of their own choosing.

Some of the world’s most successful circuses such as Mummunschanz and Cirque Du Soleil are animal-free circuses.  They draw huge crowds and perform to sold-out audiences.  

Currently, there are several countries including Sweden, India, Singapore, and Austria that have completely banned ALL animals in entertainment.  What we are proposing does not go that far. What it would do is make Massachusetts a leader in offering protections for elephants featured in entertainment here in the United States.

Again, we need to consider whether we want to teach our kids that it’s OK to beat and abuse an animal, so long as it’s done in the name of family entertainment.

We would like to encourage all readers of Blue Mass. Group to contact your legislator as well as committee chairpersons Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz and Rep. John Keenan and encourage them to support Senate Bill 1870.

A report from CBS News on elephant abuse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

A colection of news reports on elephant abuse:


How the Bullhook is Used at Circuses: Direct Quotes from Federal Lawsuit against Ringling for Mistreatment

Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, parent company that owns Ringling Brothers, March 3, 2009 pm

Q. And you have seen Ringling Brothers’ employees strike elephants with bullhooks, haven’t you?

A. Strike, hit, touch, tap, yes. Whatever the terminology is you’d like to use, yes.

Q. And you’ve seen them, Ringling Brothers’ employees, use the hooked end of the bullhook to prod elephants behind the ears, haven’t you?

A. I’ve seen them use both sides of the bullhook behind the ear of the elephant, yes.

Q. And you have also seen Ringling Brothers’ employees strike elephants under the chin with a bullhook, haven’t you?

A. Yes.

Testimony of Gary Jacobson, general manager for Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, March 9, 2009

Q. And isn’t it true that as part of the training process the baby elephants are hit with bullhooks?

A. Not as part of a training process, no.

Q. Okay. Well, you call it correction, right?

A. Yes.

Q. Part of the correction process, the baby elephants are hit with bullhooks, right?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. And that’s to correct their behavior, right?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. And when you say “correct,” you mean getting the elephant to comply with your wishes; is that right?

A. Yes.

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17 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. how about focusing on something a little more pressing?

    Like the ed reform act of 2009....maybe

    • Go ahead

      If that issue seems pressing to you, you should get off your butt and go ahead and post something on it.

    • schedule

      I would have much rather had a hearing about this back in March, rather than 11 months into the legislative session, and on the same day we're scheduled to debate the ed reform bill.

      Unfortunately, I dont write the hearing schedule, and can only testify on my bills when leadership decides to bring them up.  

  2. Sounds reasonable to me.

    My only question is would you have filed this if it applied to donkeys?

  3. We can still be cruel...

    ...to the party that uses the elephant as their mascot though, right:)?

  4. silly circus bill?

    Is this the same thing you described a couple years ago on local tv as a "silly bill," and complained about the press giving it too much coverage at the expense of your other (presumably unsilly) bills?  I remember this very well because some animal rights folks I was acquainted with were completely freaking out after they heard that statement, almost literally pulling out their hair in frustration.  

  5. Don't animal protection laws prevent cruelty to any animal?

    If the situation is as bad as you say, then the animal acts should be banned.  I'll never go to a circus again.  

  6. Great work!

    Children should be able to enjoy the circus as wholesome entertainment, not see bullied animals paraded about. It was one thing before the way these creatures were treated was known, but now that the facts are so painfully clear -- and available 24/7 on YouTube -- continuing to endorse these spectacles is rather like turning a blind eye to a neighbor who beats their dog nightly.

    We don't have dogs fighting to the death in legal events any more in Massachusetts due to earlier equivalents of this bill and it is high time this progressive bill is adopted here  

  7. Voted for Hedlund through clenched teeth

    How is that Hedlund gets the MTA and carmen's union to endorse him over a Democrat?  I figured if he's good enough for them, why not throw him a vote?  So I got drunk and threw him a vote in 2006.    

  8. Thank you Rep Erlich and Sen Hedlund.

    The amount of evidence and documentation on the abuse and cruel treatment behind the scenes at most circus regarding their handling and training of elephants is overwhelming. Bob is right about a quick search on youtube. Lots of footage of said abuse.    

    • You're very welcome

      When other countries have seen enough harmful evidence to abolish the practice, Massachusetts, at a minimum, should offer protections for elephants used soley for our entertainment. These are social, intelligent, and in this environment, defenseless creatures who, in the wild, we have pushed to near-extinction. They deserve better than this.

      I've Googled this topic a bunch which has turned my stomach and strengthened my resolve. I found two in particular that speak volumes through contrast.

      The first is a piece is a heart-warming CBS News piece about Tarra and Bella, an unlikely pair in a a very special place in Tennessee. The woman who runs the elephant sanctuary, Carol Buckley, will be at the State House to testify for this bill.   http://www.cbsnews.com/video/w...

      By contrast, this second video is heart-breaking and stomach-turning footage of the life of circus elephants. Learn more at peta2.com

      With endless alternative entertainment options for family time, making elephants perform using such harmful tools and practices is antiquated and cruel. Needless to say, I'm very proud to be co-sponsoring this bill with Senator Hedlund and look forward to the legislative process getting underway on Monday.

  9. Formatting problem

    At least on my computer this topic blended seamlessly with the weekly humor, the video just underneath Jon Stewart trashing Lou Dobbs. Sorry but I think another topic should separate these two-the juxtaposition is too much.  

  10. Actually...

    after reviewing some of the disturbing video, Sen. Hedlund & Rep. Ehrlich deserve credit for riding herd on this issue (pardon the pun) and working in a bi-partisan fashion.  A regular Kennedy/Hatch combo, those two.  BTW, who is bottling this legislation up?

  11. Elephants?

    How are we going to deal with the death rates/immuno-deficiency/sterility of those who have received the swine vaccine.

    What are we going to do in January 2010 when gas is 10 dollars a gallon after Obama signs the Copenhagen carbon scam treaty.

    What happens in Utah when little Johnnie tells his parents he has to attend a gay/straight alliance class in the fourth grade.

    What would happen if I could magically tell the teabaggers the real enemy was the globalist organizations of Bildeberg, CFR, Trilateral and Club of Rome among many others.

    How can I best invest in the destroying my granson's future for my retirement?

    Nah, run, go ahead, there is no higher priority, get your swine vaccine now, right now.

    • which is it?

      Is Alex Jones asserting "death rates/immuno-deficiency/sterility of those who have received the swine vaccine," or are you getting that from somewhere else? And which is it - death, immuno-deficiency or sterility?

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